San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New prescription program to help U.S. vets

Costa Rica is already established as a destination for patients looking to receive quality health care at reasonable prices, but a new program at Metropolitano Hospital in San José aims to draw U.S. veterans with a special program of benefits geared toward  former service members.

Jeanette Varela, Metropolitano Hospital’s international insurance coordinator, said the new program will launch this month.

“We felt the need to start this program,” Varela said, “because there are many veterans in Costa Rica who have had lots of trouble buying their medications because other places won’t accept their insurance.”

Metropolitano Hospital will work with several insurance providers for veterans, including Tricare for Life, FMP, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Cigna International. Varela said that although the program initially will cover only the cost of prescription drugs, there is potential to expand to other treatments. For prescriptions, she said, patients will be responsible for only 25 percent co-pay.

“The idea for this is to start with the pharmacy program little by little, so that veterans start hearing about it through word of mouth and learn that there is a difference between coming here and going to other places to get their prescriptions,” Varela said.

At Metropolitano Hospital, the program will arrange someone to help patients through the paperwork at the pharmacy – a service that won’t cost a dime.

“In other places, oftentimes we hear that patients either have to go through the procedures themselves, or if someone helps them with paperwork, they’ll charge the patients a commission,” she said. “Meanwhile, here, we’re not going to charge any type of commission. We’re going to do all paperwork for [patients], walk them through the process, and the only thing they’ll have to pay for is the cost of the co-pay for medications.”

Jim Young is a U.S. Air Force veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He founded Veteran’s Care International, a program that facilitates insurance billing for veterans at La Católica Hospital in San José, after moving to Costa Rica in 2000. His client list has about 800 names, and he said Veteran’s Care International helps out about 15 to 20 people on average each week.

There are already plenty of veterans seeking health care in Costa Rica, and Young said he expects that number to go up.

“We have people from World War II right up to today from the desert in Iraq,” Young said. “And we’re going to see more and more as we bring troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The patients he helps at La Católica Hospital are Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for Agent Orange-induced diabetes or others looking to get a knee or hip replaced. Sky-high medical costs in the United States are a major reason to come to Costa Rica for treatment, Young said, but there’s the issue of quality as well.

“I’ll tell you that you will get better treatment here than you will at any hospital in the U.S.,” he said, “because the people care, they are very thorough and they are very well-educated and well-trained. People who come here are amazed. We even have greeters to help show you around the hospital when you come in. And it probably will cost you 30 percent or even less of what it would cost you in the States.”

Although Metropolitano Hospital has branches in the northern San José district of Tibás and Heredia, north of San José, Valera said the new veterans’ benefit program is centered at the San José location, two blocks south of San Juan de Dios Hospital. 

Special arrangements can be made for vets who might not be able to make it to San José. Making those arrangements requires a phone call to the San José clinic to get things sorted and to pass along patients’ insurance information to a different location.

Varela said that although the new program covers only prescription drugs for the moment, that coverage could expand in the next few months to include exams and treatments. When that happens, she said, veterans will also enjoy discounts on various procedures.

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